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|Angst and Neutrality|
February 3, 2017
A couple of hours have passed sincereturned with 's letter to when and his men return to the village, much to 's delight and Singi's relief and heightened anxiety.
"Dad, you're back!" Guilin exclaims, jumping up and hugging his father, which Dao returns, albeit with some difficulty due to carrying his belongings.
"I'm sorry it took us a bit longer than expected to come home, son. My men and I got a bit disoriented in the desert and spent an extra day there to be safe."
Singi approaches the general, smiling slightly.
"Welcome back, General. Once you and your men have settled down and unpacked your belongings, I was hoping I could address something to you."
"Of course, Singi. We can address it when we're out in the field, training."
Once out in the same meadow from Singi's earthbending skills. Singi's face shines and her brown hair sticks to the nape of her neck and forehead as sweat builds up at a rapid rate. At one point, she juts her left foot forward, causing a small cluster of earth to roll across the surface and encase the soldier's right foot in a small mound of rock, immobilizing him and causing him to jerk forward a bit, thrown off balance slightly. Soon after, however, solider raises his encased foot and swings his leg in a quick, rough swipe to his left, sending the rock encasing off of the his foot flying and towards Singi, who bends a sheet of rock to shield herself from the projectile. Upon successfully defending herself from the earthen shell, Singi lowers her shield, only to have the soldier continue his barrage of attacks. At one point he sends two massive hunks of rock to Singi, one on each side like two immense curveballs. Initially nervous, Singi manages to stand her ground before striking the two projectiles with her fists, shattering the boulders, the force of the blows sending the debris shooting to her left and right. There can be no doubt Singi has improved in her earthbending skills over the past month, and while the intense militaristic-styled trainings have been exhausting to say the least, it is clear that they are paying off immensely., the Avatar this time trains alongside one of Dao's men, while Guilin takes on another soldier. Singi's partner shows her little mercy, as he tests Singi's abilities by sending her large rocks, bending pillars of earth, and doing whatever else he can to provoke the Avatar into honing and perfecting her
After a couple of hours, Dao calls for a break, much to Singi's relief. As Guilin takes a seat beside his father, Qiú lying down on the ground by his owner's feet, she walks over to her earthbending instructor, hands clasped behind her back.
Catching his attention, Dao raises his head and directs his attention towards Singi.
Dao's eyes widen slightly, a bit shocked.
"and , two warlords from the Fire Islands."
"And you saw this declaration happen? Where?"
"Yes. While you and your men were away, Guilin,, Jiefeng, Qiú and I traveled to the waterbender village of Kunatuk, northwest of here, a two or three days flight by air bison."
Dao takes out a map of the world and kneels down to the ground, unfurling it open before Singi points to the location of the settlement.
"We went there to visit my waterbending instructor, Master Gekkō, when the two warlords and what I can only assume to be a faction of their men spirits around the time of the solstices. Then, they completely belittled not only the waterbender and airbender cultures for admiring the spirits—which, by the way, they think should no longer have anything to do with this world, what with Avatar Wan sealing the spirit portals—but they disparaged me as the Avatar, for failing in my job to keep the spirits within their world!"us. They explained that they moved away from the Islands because of having to compete against rivaling warlords for land at any time during the year, as well as having to deal with the
Clenching her fists in anger, Singi continues her rant.
"They want to kill or enslave every person from both cultures, including me, for something that I couldn't help! They declared war right in front of us in Kunatuk, and a fight broke out. Master Gekkō told me—us—to flee. He said my life is more valuable than his. I didn't want to leave, but I did, alongside your son and the others, and I recently learned that a few residents of Kunatuk died in the clash. I feel like this is all my fault!"
Singi pauses momentarily in an attempt to compose herself, closing her eyes and steadily breathing a few times, while Guilin looks up at his father, clearly concerned. Dao meanwhile has his eyes closed as well, gently running a hand through his beard, taking in Singi's words and contemplating the situation. Soon, Singi snaps open her eyes, a few teardrops flying out due to the force, and she stares at Dao with a mix of determination and desperation.
"General Dao, you must do something!"
Dao opens his eyes, his expression rather blank, but he continues listening intently.
"The earthbenders should rally by our side and fight against these... barbarians! My life is at stake! Half of the world's cultures are at stake!"
After a brief pause, Dao removes his hand from his chin and sets it down.
"I'm sorry, Avatar Singi, but I will not allow my allies and I to take part in this war."
At this, Singi stares at Dao in shock, her eyes bulging and her mouth slacked open before she manages to speak again, flabbergasted.
"This war does not target the earthbender culture. Us earthbenders are fairly tolerant of the spirits, and I'm sure that's why these two warlords did not declare war upon us, unlike the two targeted cultures who greatly look up to the spirits. Therefore, there is no need for us to get involved in this war, at least not yet."
Singi once again stares at Dao in shock, while Guilin turns his head to sympathetically gaze at the overwhelmed Avatar.
"Then you're sentencing all of those innocent lives, myself included, to death!" Singi exclaims, angered.
"No, I'm not, Avatar," Dao interjects before standing, "I will continue training you in earthbending so that one day you will master it. For now, you could say that is my contribution to the war effort—to prepare you for the time in which you will need to face these warlords and their men, and put an end to their merciless crusade."
Singi simply stares at Dao, adrenaline pumping through her veins as her anger settles by the slightest amount.
"Dad..." Guilin whispers, astonished.
"Let me teach you something about earthbending that doesn't require any movement, any demonstration, any bending," Dao proposes, raising his right hand in a gesture which causes a small rock pillar to form behind Singi, startling her a bit, before the Avatar sits down atop of it, resting her hands on her upper thighs and watching Dao intently.
"Are you familiar with the options in fighting known as jing?"
"Yes. There's negative jing, which we airbenders exercise, and it corresponds to evading and retreating. There's also positive jing, which corresponds to advancing and attacking."
"Isn't that it?"
"No, you're forgetting about neutral jing."
"Yes. Neutral jing is the key to earthbending. It involves listening and waiting for the right opportunity to strike. You've actually been utilizing it very often during our training sessions: You've often waited for your opponent to strike first, standing your ground while doing so, and when the time was right, you've met your opponent's attacks head-on, before delivering a strike of your own. That is what earthbending is all about."
Singi stares at Dao in wonder before looking down at her feet in realization, processing the information. After a few minutes, Singi shifts her head back up and glances at Guilin before redirecting her attention to Dao.
"I understand," she states before standing and walking up to Dao, her face guilt-ridden.
"General Dao, I am so sorry for snapping at you. It's not even like me..."
"Apology accepted, Avatar Singi. I understand your concerns regarding this war, but I'm confident you will someday be able to put a stop to it."
"I know I told you last month that I'd train for however long it takes for me to master earthbending, but now I feel as if I have an unimaginable amount of pressure on me—that I need to master earth and fire as quickly as I can so that I can end Maku and Gaza's campaign before happens."
"You and I both know that you cannot rush mastery. You'll just need to learn and master earthbending for however long it takes, and the same will go with firebending. It is better to charge into battle with confidence than it is to rush in with less experience than you had hoped."
Devoting her attention to Dao, Singi fails to notice Guilin stand himself up and walk over to her before she feels his left hand take a hold of her right one. Looking down, Guilin smiles up at her.
"You'll be able to kick their butts someday, Singi. I'm sure of it!"
For the first time this day, Singi smiles.
Singi glances back up at Dao, who is also smiling, albeit slightly.
"And thank you, General Dao, for putting up with me," Singi adds somewhat sheepishly, "and for teaching me about neutral jing. I don't think I'll ever get rid of my nerves regarding the war—it'll always be looming in the back of my head."
Another air of determination takes Singi over, and a confident glimmer in her eyes shines as she balls her free hand into a fist.
"But at least now I can focus more on my earthbending training, and giving it all I've got to master it and firebending when the time comes. I won't let Maku and Gaza let scores of innocent lives be subjugated or slaughtered. I'm the Avatar! If they want to kill me in order to drive their message of intolerance and hatred home, then they're going to have to give it everything they've got to take me down!."
After hearing her determined speech, Guilin gazes at Singi in wonder. Singi in the meantime flashes a confident grin and gazes with a fire in her eyes at Dao, while in the background, Jamyang, who has listened to much of the conversation over the past few minutes, nods in approval.
"Let's get back to training!" Singi exclaims confidently, to which the group ultimately does for the remaining hours of daylight.
Later that night, after dinner, Singi crouches herself up and walks over to the entrance of the tent.
"Jamyang, I'm going to head into the Spirit World and see if I can talk to Wan for a while. Don't hold up."
"All right, Singi. You do what you need to do, but remember, you still have training bright and early tomorrow morning."
"I know, Jamyang. Night."
With that, Singi exits the tent and flies by cloud to the training meadow. She sits herself along the banks of the stream and closes her eyes, focused as she begins to meditate.
After a few seconds, Singi finds herself in the Spirit World, standing along the eastern edge of a large pond. As she glances around her, a rather insignificant landmark of sorts catches her eye—the jutting ledge of a cliff. Looking southeast of the ledge, Singi can barely make out a crowd of white, bird-like spirits straight ahead of her bathing and wading in the water. The spirits are white in coloration, sans their light yellow heart-shaped faces, thin, curved proboscis, and fairly short legs ending with simple bird-like feet containing four clawed digits. Their wings are narrow and akin to terns. Looking back up at the ledge, Singi puts the pieces together.
"That ledge is where IWan in the Spirit World," she murmurs to herself.
As if on cue, a gentle, almost silent trot can be heard coming from the west.
"Well, hello again."
Turning her head in the direction of the voice, Singi finds Wan, riding Mula, approaching her.
"Hey, Wan!" Singi greets, while the former Avatar dismounts his cat deer.
"Is this Mula?" She asks, walking up to gently pet the hybrid animal along the head, who purrs in response.
"Yeah, this is Mula. To be honest, I'm not sure why he ended up here in the Spirit World—he died decades before I did. Usually, only the very spiritual can end up here after death, and I would assume that really only applies to humans."
Wan rolls his eyes and shrugs in defeat deciding to drop the topic.
"Anyway, what brings you here again?"
"Well, it's a pretty big and long story, but—"
Before Singi can finish her sentence, the ground beneath their feet trembles. Looking behind them, the trio quickly jumps out of the way to allow a herd of horse lobster spirits to convene along the lake. The spirits are dark orange in color, with the general appearance of a horse, and the hard exoskeleton of a lobster, covering much of the head and body except for the underside and legs. In addition, these fascinating spirits also contain the antennae and antennules of lobsters, and on each side of the flank, an additional four smaller appendages akin to a lobster's legs, tucked in along the bare underbelly. Finally, their tails are a bizarre combination between those of both animal species—a red brown long-haired tail of a horse hangs protected on its dorsal side by the segmented, plated tail of a lobster, from which swimmerets hang on each side.
"Wow... these spirits look like something out of a dream," Singi marvels, as she watches the spirits stand around the edge of the lake, some lowering their heads to drink. Suddenly, one of the spirits takes notice of the two humans and cat deer, and steadily approaches the trio, lowering its head to be level with Singi's. The Avatar hesitates for a moment, unsure if the spirit is simply investigating her, or asking for some attention. After waving its antennae along Singi's cheeks and hair, the lobster horse spirit sniffs her for a bit before ghosting its muzzle along Singi's chin.
Hesitantly, Singi gently rubs the spirit's muzzle with her right hand, before the spirit stands and turns to its side, facing the west while eyeing Singi.
"Uhhh..." Singi ponders, first looking in the direction the spirit is facing before glancing back up at the creature.
"Seems to me like he wants to take you for a ride," Wan chimes in smirking in amusement.
"Me? Ride a wild spirit?" Singi asks, rather dumbfounded.
Wan walks over to the spirit standing beside its left rear leg.
"Sure, these spirits are rather tame, so long as you don't get too close to their young without their consent. You always want them to approach you first."
With that, Wan crouches down, bringing his hands together so that one cups the other, palm facing up.
"Now, come on..."
Singi hesitates, unsure. She glances first at the lobster horse spirit before looking back down at Wan, who patiently waits for her, smiling.
"Didn't you say you always had a huge fascination for the spirits?" Wan chuckles.
"Of course I did! I just never thought I'd have the chance to actually ride one."
"Well, now's your chance."
Slowly, Singi walks over and places her left foot atop of Wan's hands, and the former Avatar hoists her high enough so she can mount the creature. Once settled on, Singi looks along the withers and crest of the creature, unsure of where to place her hands. Meanwhile, Wan mounts Mula, gently placing his hands on the cat deer's withers.
"So, this creature mostly has a thick armor... how exactly am I supposed to hold onto it?"
"Just do what I do, and hold on," Wan replies, winking, "I'll race ya!"
With that, Wan directs Mula forward, the cat deer rushes into the lake and down the water body's length, moving west. The lobster horse spirit calls before rearing up, starting Singi before she wraps her arms around the creature's withers, and the spirit takes off, following Mula.
What were once screams peters off into laughter as Singi begins to catch up to Wan, the two soon riding side by side. They eventually reach the flock of white bird spirits, who call while scattering into the air and out of the way of the racing Avatars, kicking up water as they take off en masse and dot the sky—the upper horizon colored in various shades of blue, purple, pink, and red, while the lower horizon shines a bright lemon chiffon—once again, as if the timeless landscape were in the midst of a glorious sunset. Upon reaching the spot where the front portion of the flock used to be, the two creatures come to a halt, while the two Avatars gaze ahead at the flock of spirits, who appear as if they are flying into the sun, until they slowly fly out of sight.
Wan breaths a deep sigh of contentment before speaking, smiling.
"I know I said this before, but the Spirit World is truly a magnificent place, and fairly peaceful, too. Now that I'm here, living alongside the spirits in their world, I can't think of a more beautiful landscape, even when compared to all that I saw during my travels back in the mortal world."
At this, Singi looks down, frowning.
"Wan... I think I started a war!"
At this, Wan turns his head towards Singi and glances at her in a mixture of shock and confusion.
"A few days ago, Jamyang, some of my friends, and I traveled to the settlement where my waterbending instructor lives for a visit. Two warlords from the Fire Islands and some of their men interrupted us, and the warlords went on about how they left the Islands because of having to compete against rivaling warlords for land year-round in addition to the spirits around the time of the solstices. Then, they belittled not only the waterbender and airbender cultures for admiring and worshipping the spirits—which they think should no longer have anything to do with the mortal world, because of you closing the spirit portals—but they denigrated me as the Avatar, for failing in my job to keep the spirits within the Spirit World!"
Wan looks down, processing the information, while Singi continues:
"They want to kill or enslave every single person from both cultures, including me, for something that I have no control over! They declared war right then and there, and a scuffle broke out between the settlers of the waterbender village and the warlords and their men. My master told my friends and I to flee, saying that my life was more valuable than his. I didn't want to leave, but ultimately, we did, and I would learn earlier today that a few residents of the settlement died in the fight. What's more, I begged my earthbending instructor—who happens to be a general—for he and the other earthbenders to join us to fight for those being oppressed by the warlords, and he refused, before teaching me about the idea of neutral jing. I'm just so overwhelmed! I know I'll need to just spend my time training to master both earthbending and firebending, but I feel so helpless, having to just stand by and train while Maku and Gaza make their way laying waste to whatever they want! I don't know if by the time I master the other elements, if—if I'll be too late... I feel like this is all my fault..."
Singi clenches her eyes shut, trying not to cry, before Wan gently addresses her, causing her to open her eyes and gaze at the former Avatar, her cheeks tinging pink.
"Singi, first and foremost, none of this is your fault. If anything, it's mine. I'm the one who unleashed chaos into the world by separating Raava and Vaatu, and although I was able to defeat Vaatu, darkness still surrounds humanity. I wasn't able to put an end to it, despite my promise to Raava that I would do everything I could to restore peace and balance to the world. You inherited my mistake, and I have no doubt the same will hold true for the Avatars after you. Second, Maku and Gaza just sound like... well... brutes. When I was living in the Spirit Oasis alongside Aye-aye and the other spirits for two years, occasionally, hunters from my lion turtle city would arrive, seeking food, and wanting to attack the spirits that inhabited the oasis. But over those years, I perfected my firebending skills and defended my spirit friends from human harm. That's a small scale example of what you will need to do—you not only will need to defend those being targeted by the warlords, but in essence, the spirits themselves. Third, while it may take you years to master earthbending and firebending, you still have more time than I did to train so that you're ready to take on your enemies; I only had a year to master air, water, and earth before Harmonic Convergence. In the end, it was through my determination to defend Raava and ultimately, us uniting our energies that allowed me to become the first Avatar and defeat Vaatu. Your earthbending instructor was wise in teaching you about neutral jing—I didn't have that luxury when I had to prepare myself for my battle against Vaatu. Maybe someday, the earthbenders will join your cause, but let's hope it's not for a reason that involves the death of a prominent person in earthbender society."
As Singi looks down again, Wan nudges Mula so that the cat deer moves to the side slightly, close enough so that he can place his right hand on Singi's shoulder.
"Singi..." the teenager looks back up at her past life, gazing into his deep copper eyes, "You did not start this war. I want you to know that as a fact. Maku and Gaza started it because of how I changed the world—not you. I know you'll be able to face them one day, and put an end to this war, but you will do so when you are ready. This isn't the first time you've stared down a force of destruction and ended up being the victor in the end, and it won't be your last time, either. Just don't give up on yourself, and in due time, you'll be able to give Maku and Gaza a full display of just one of the people they've targeted in their campaign—and one they shouldn't mess with," Wan concludes with a slight smirk.
Smiling back, Singi nods in approval.
"Thank you, Wan. I admit, General Dao calmed me a fair amount with his lecture on neutral jing, but you're so eloquent! I'm feeling a lot better after talking to you!"
Wan chuckles and rubs the back of his head somewhat sheepishly.
"Thanks! I think it just comes with my history of always sticking up for those who were oppressed. I assure you, though, you'll have your day of reckoning against Maku and Gaza at, and you will triumph."
Singi nods in approval, and the two direct the mounts onward, leisurely walking down the lake and into the far horizon.
- Dao teaches Singi the concept of neutral jing, much like how King Bumi taught Aang of the idea upon the latter's return to Omashu.
- Wan's reassuring speech to Singi includes various references from "Beginnings, Part 1" and Part 2, but it also hints at the execution of immediately preceding the , as well as the final battle of the War of Spirituality—the
- The lobster horse spirit is the author's favorite spirit featured in the trilogy.
- Although not explained in the chapter, the spirit's eight lobster-like legs are somewhat vestigial. Like the spirit's swimmerets, these legs are used for when it swims in deep water. Rather than submerging itself completely underwater, it uses these legs to push itself along the water, keeping its upper body above water (unlike the legs' function for real-world lobsters for walking on the seafloor).
- This is the second time Singi gets noticeably angry, the first being in " ".
- Singi meets Mula for the first time, unlike the previous instances in her prior to discovering she was the Avatar. With that, Mula is also revealed to have transcended into the Spirit World after his death.
- This is the first chapter to end in the Spirit World as opposed to the physical world.
- When first coming up with the trilogy during the summer of 2016, the race scene between Wan and Singi was the first scene imagined by the author.
For the collective works of the author, go here.